Talking Points Episode 20: The Points Guy UK

Apr 30, 2019

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For this episode, Talking Points is on location from London to help celebrate the launch of TPG’s newest office. Nicky Kelvin, the Director of Content of TPG UK, sits down with Brian Kelly to explore the points and miles space in Britain.

“As the “Miles Mogul’ on Instagram, Kelvin spent several years as a record label attorney and photographer sharing his passion for miles and points tips. Now, he’s thrilled to oversee UK-focused content for TPG, explore the burgeoning British credit card landscape and provide much-needed tips around making the most of those Tesco Clubcard points. Help us spread the word about TPG UK to our friends across the pond by sharing this episode far and wide.

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Full Transcript

Brian Kelly: Welcome to Talking Points, I’m your host Brian Kelly, and I’m coming to you live from London with a very special guest, our very own Nicky Kelvin, head of content for the recently launched TPG UK.

Brian Kelly: Nicky, thanks for joining us.

Nicky Kelvin: It’s a pleasure to be here and very exciting that we’re finally off the ground.

Brian Kelly: Finally, off the ground. So this week has been pretty epic. We’re currently in the throes of our launch, how do you feel about everything?

Nicky Kelvin: Feeling really great, it’s been a really exciting week, very full on. We’ve met a million people, we have our incredible pop-up shop in London. Seems to be going really well and everybody loves it.

Brian Kelly: What’s the point of spending so much time and money on doing a pop-up shop in Covent Garden?

Nicky Kelvin: Well the Points Guy doesn’t like to do things by halves, generally. So, we’re continuing that tradition and we’re happy to continue the tradition of the US team. We thought having a physical space where people can check out what we’re up to, meet us in real life, have some really cool engaging activities. But to have us there to talk about miles and points and to understand what’s going on in the UK miles and points space is the reason why we wanted a physical space for people to talk to us. In the UK people don’t really know anything about miles and points yet, and we are here to bring that information to them.

Brian Kelly: And why do you think that is?

Nicky Kelvin: I think the culture just hasn’t moved as quickly as it has in the US. I know that the UK looks a bit like what the US looked like 10 years ago, maybe… Loyalty is a new thing to the British public, credit cards are something that people are generally cautious about and reward programs. I think the Brits are quite cynical about things and you often hear, “Where’s the value for me? I can never use them, these points, even if I get them, it’s all a load of rubbish.” It’s not true, and that’s what we’re here to…

Brian Kelly: It sounds like you’ve got an uphill battle, though. How did you get into the whole miles and points game?

Nicky Kelvin: So I have a bit of a weird and interesting journey. I trained as a solicitor in the city, a big scary law firm, and…

Brian Kelly: That means lawyer for those who don’t know what a solicitor is.

Nicky Kelvin: Lawyer, attorney.

Brian Kelly: Attorney. Is that your way of a US accent?

Nicky Kelvin: Oh no, I can do so much better. Don’t judge me on that, don’t judge me. That’s for another podcast. I do – I do British accents, regional accents, really well, but that — we’ll save it.

Nicky Kelvin: I worked as a lawyer then for five years for a very big record label, and swung in some music circles, also worked as a photographer. So, I worked as a photojournalist in Israel, and then when I joined the label I shot loads of music stars, from your Justin Biebers and your Sean Mendes-es to Lionel Richie, all sorts of people. I had incredible experiences doing that, but what I really loved to take pictures of was airplanes, and airports, and aviation…

Brian Kelly: And was that ever since you’ve been a kid, you’ve been obsessed?

Nicky Kelvin: Since being a tiny child airplanes, flying, airports, and everything associated was my obsession. As so as I got older, my sister was British Airways cabin crew, and so I was very lucky to be able to travel with her a lot, on the cheap — staff travel, back in the days where taxes in the UK were much lower. And I went all over with her. Then she got married and had children and ruined my life.

Brian Kelly: How dare she!

Nicky Kelvin: Yeah. Awful. So, I lost all of that. So miles and points was my way to replace of all that stuff.

Brian Kelly: And how did you get into miles and points? Were you Googling around? Did you [inaudible 00:03:46] some on the FlyerTalk?

Nicky Kelvin: Yeah so FlyerTalk was how I started using credit cards here and there to build up points.

Brian Kelly: I got into FlyerTalk, I think, in 2004.

Nicky Kelvin: I think I was FlyerTalking whilst I was still at university. So, probably, I reckon ’07, ’08. I was sort of on FlyerTalk and not active, but…

Brian Kelly: Pre TPG.

Nicky Kelvin: And trying to work out this world and what was going on. And I remember my first redemption, when I finished university, was to South America. It was when BMI, the old British Midland, had a great rewards program, with a great credit card.

Brian Kelly: Oh yeah, that was… I remember that, it was like 36,000 miles round trip in business class.

Nicky Kelvin: With stops.

Brian Kelly: Yeah.

Nicky Kelvin: It was insane. So I flew all different airlines, all business class down to Argentina, there was a fifth freedom on Air Canada from Buenos Aires to Santiago; flew Air Canada business down there. Flew home, actually, on Continental business, which I remember being…

Brian Kelly: R.I.P. Continental.

Nicky Kelvin: Yeah, which I remember being great.

Nicky Kelvin: And then I sort of continued my journey from there. I learned more and more about air miles, and a few years ago, about five years ago now, started Miles Mogul. I was telling everybody about this stuff, I said, “You’ve got to get a credit card, you’ve gotta earn Avios, you’ve gotta earn Virgin points, because there’s real value there,” and nobody was doing it. So, I started writing a bit of a blog, the blog then turned into an Instagram, and because I take lovely pictures of planes my Instagram did quite well, people in the [inaudible 00:05:10] community enjoyed my photography. Then I started doing master classes, the master classes were called, “How to fly first class for almost free,” teaching people the beginnings of this hobby.

Brian Kelly: Were you petrified before you went on?

Nicky Kelvin: Yeah, I was so scared. I had 100 people there, everyone had paid to be there, so I was like, “Am I worthy? Like, these people have bought tickets.” But I thought, “You know what? The advice is great I’m giving them.” And after that first one people were loving it.

Brian Kelly: And when you were a solicitor, did they know that you were doing this on the side?

Nicky Kelvin: Yeah, and everybody loved it. I know this was the same for you, Brian, that people would come up to my desk and be like, “Yeah I need to fly to New York next week, help me. I’ve got to fly business class. How am I doing it? How do I get my miles?” So, I became an advisory service to everybody, including my boss and his whole family.

Brian Kelly: So I started The Points Guy as a mileage booking service. Even before it was a blog it was a forum where people would pay me 50 bucks and I would do the dirty work for, you know, searching for awards for them. Did you ever do that?

Nicky Kelvin: I did that a lot, but not formally. And people did actually pay me ad hoc, but not really, that was mainly helping people that I knew to be able to do that, as opposed to people paying me. People were paying me to come to the talks though, to learn how to do it themselves.

Brian Kelly: So we followed each other on Instagram for several years. I remember you came to the TPG offices when we were in the WeWork downtown. That must be, what, three years ago?

Nicky Kelvin: That was probably three and a half years ago now. I met you then and even then, three and a half years ago, you were like, “Yeah, the UK, like, something’s happening. Something’s gonna happen there. Watch this space.” And I watched this space for three years until, finally, we arrived at TPG UK being a possibility, or a reality.

Brian Kelly: Well, a) I love coming to London, and the UK has been our number two audience at the site for years. Granted, it’s only like 3% or something, the US is by far our number one. But, we’ve had several hundred thousand readers a month in the UK for years. So, I always knew the UK was something we should do, but it was always about finding the right people. And I actually didn’t think that you’d wanna leave your job as a solicitor. All the stars aligned and, what was it, August of 2018? You got your offer to join, you accepted. What was that like telling your parents and your boss at the big record label that you’re quitting to go work for a blog?

Nicky Kelvin: I’d been waiting on the offer to come through, and actually, I don’t know if you even know this, I probably never told you this, but when you called me to tell me, “Right, it’s done, and this is your offer and I’m emailing you the formal documents now,” I was actually on a photo shoot, it was an artist, one our artists I looked after called Gorgon City, it was a huge album launch party, like a rave. I was in the rave, in the DJ booth with a huge crowd in front of me…

Brian Kelly: Get out. I never knew this story.

Nicky Kelvin: … and I’m taking photos and my phone starts ringing, and I looked at it, Brian Kelly, I’m like, “I gotta go,” bashed my way through the crowds, came out, it was…

Brian Kelly: So funny. I had no idea.

Nicky Kelvin: … in East London, in Hackney, in the summer, it was in early August. It was hammering it down with rain, pouring down, and I was in just a T-shirt, already sweating, my two cameras over my shoulder. Took the call, Brian’s like, “It’s happening. It’s time.” And then the sort of rest was history. But actually, I was like, “I can’t go back in there, I can’t go back into this rave.” And thankfully, I’d nailed the pictures already, so I just ordered a cab, went home, called my parents, I was like, “Oh my God!”

Brian Kelly: That’s so funny.

Nicky Kelvin: Then yeah, I think the reality was I had a very… I had an amazing job at the label, amazing people that I love… Actually, my boss and some of my old colleagues came to the pop-up.

Brian Kelly: It was fun getting to meet him at the pop-up.

Nicky Kelvin: Yeah. He’s a great guy. He was like a father to me, and he really encouraged me to grow in all different areas alongside growing my legal career. And I think everybody at the label knew when they heard of this opportunity, there wasn’t even a question. This was my dream job to be working in the world of aviation and travel, and talking about miles and points, and to do some loads of camera and content stuff, and to travel for work, was just everything about me that being a lawyer wasn’t. Thankfully I got to leave the label on a high, I was leaving the industry, leaving law, leaving music, so there was no bad blood anywhere which was amazing as well. So, I kind of got cheered out the office. That makes it sound like…

Brian Kelly: Yeah. It is gonna be difficult here because in the US, we’re so lucky. I mean, we’ve got probably 10 different credit card issuers, they’re all competing, the interchange within banks is much higher, so there’s much richer rewards in credit cards, and 100,000 point sign-up bonuses. That’s not the case here. Explain to listeners what the current situation is in the UK travel rewards, credit card market?

Nicky Kelvin: So that is right. We don’t have the richness of the US market, however there is still plenty of rewards to be had, and that most people are just not taking advantage of. Some of the main ones that I think being missed out on, nobody really knows that Tesco club card points can be converted into Avios at quite beneficial rates. So, the thing I keep talking about is 200 pounds a week spent at Tesco, after a year would leave you with 25,000 Avios. Most people are doing that shop at Tesco and just getting nothing off the back of it. All you have to do is scan your club card. The credit card market is, granted, very different to the US but there is still some juicy credit card sign-up bonuses. The Amex platinum card has a 30,000 point sign-up bonus at the moment, for example — that’s at the top end.

Nicky Kelvin: So there are credit card bonuses to be had.

Brian Kelly: But usually where we see 40-70, you guys are in the 0-30 range.

Nicky Kelvin: Yeah. You know, 15 is all right, 20 is good, more than that is an excellent deal for us.

Brian Kelly: Right.

Nicky Kelvin: But again, that’s decent chunks of points that you otherwise would just not have, and then putting your day-to-day spending on the rewards credit cards to earn off every purchase… it builds up. Maybe it takes a bit longer here and takes a bit more planning, but you can totally get that reward in the end.

Nicky Kelvin: And also things like shopping portals —  I was just looking this morning at the British Airway shopping portal has six Avios per pound at Apple. So you know, next time you buy…

Brian Kelly: That’s something that the US still are always shocked by when I’m like, “Shop through shopping portals,” people are like, “What?” And it’s free.

Nicky Kelvin: It’s points for nothing, and the benefits are great, like ASOS, everybody in the UK shops at ASOS. Eight Avios per pound at the moment — they have an offer on that. You know, I know people who spend 50 quid a day on ASOS and it’s just huge amounts of points that can be earned.

Brian Kelly: So, you’re the head of content. Your job is to bring really compelling stuff. How is the content at TPG UK gonna be different than the US?

Nicky Kelvin: So, we’re gonna be different, first of all, by having a UK slant on things. We know loads of people in the UK were reading the US site already but were frustrated that the advice didn’t have that UK voice and UK focus. So, our primary aim is to bring UK information. How can you maximize travel and miles and points if you live in the UK and you can only get UK credit cards, and take advantage of UK deals? So, bringing miles and points information, credit card information, UK deals or European deals, the kind of stuff that people in the UK and Europe are actually gonna do, and use, and have access to. And then, in terms of how we present that content, we’re gonna make that exciting, fun, engaging. So, yeah we’re gonna have that solid backbone written information for miles and points, it’s super important, but we’ve also got some incredible video content, amazing visuals.

Brian Kelly: Yeah the Instagram is already, day one of launch, we’re at over 9,000 followers, and crazy engagement, most of who are in the UK. I’m excited to see where you guys take this, because I am blown away at the creative talent. You know, we’re only what, seven full time people here?

Nicky Kelvin: Yeah.

Brian Kelly: Most are on the content team. What you guys have done already is awesome, and from my perspective, I think the UK is gonna actually help encourage, creatively, the US. You know, a lot of the content does overlap. Now, one of the things that I think, and listeners probably don’t know about, is one of the best ways to maximize Avios is the multi-carrier award, which is not really listed online. Do you want to explain what it is and how people should approach it?

Nicky Kelvin: Yeah. So, multi carrier awards, a lesser-known corner of the Avios world… I did one of these last March and it’s probably the most exciting redemption I’ve ever done. They use a different pricing chart, instead of paying per flight you pay per mileage, so you either pool your mileage for the whole ticket and then you pay a certain amount. So, I actually flew from London to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong to Taipei and back on Cathay Pacific, all in first class, down to Perth on Cathay Business, and then hopped over to Singapore on the low-cost airline, and then I flew from Singapore to London on British Airways business. So I flew Qantas, Cathay and BA. For the ticket you need to fly two or more Oneworld airlines, so I qualified for that. By putting on all these shorter, more expensive flights, it didn’t add to the cost of my ticket, but it would’ve added a huge amount to the cost of a cash ticket. So I paid 100,000 Avios and 500 pounds tax. It would have cost, had I paid cash, 20,000 pounds for the whole ticket, which is insane.

Brian Kelly: And if you would’ve priced as an individual Avios award each of those segments, it probably would’ve been what, 300,000 Avios?

Nicky Kelvin: It priced out at, I think, 385,000, I think.

Brian Kelly: So instead you had it for 100, that’s amazing.

Nicky Kelvin: Yeah. Yeah.

(Commercial break.)

Brian Kelly: All right, you grew up in Leeds, which is what, a couple hours north of London?

Nicky Kelvin: 200 miles to the north.

Brian Kelly: What was it like growing up in Leeds?

Nicky Kelvin: Leeds is great.

Brian Kelly: Do you recommend an American visitor journeying up to Leeds on a trip?

Nicky Kelvin: So, yes. Maybe not Leeds itself, Leeds is a great city, third biggest by…

Brian Kelly: University town, right?

Nicky Kelvin: Yeah, third biggest by population in the UK, depending on how you define it. It’s a very cool place, however, the surrounds of Leeds are amazing. The Yorkshire Dales are beautiful. If any of you have ever seen a box of Yorkshire Tea — I know there’s one in the US TPG office — the picture on the front of the box, that is Yorkshire. That’s quintessential Yorkshire Dales, dry stone walling, these beautiful fences, sheep everywhere, rolling hills, beautiful valleys, little pubs, it’s incredible English countryside and I adore it.

Brian Kelly: It’s an easy train from London, right?

Nicky Kelvin: If you went up to Leeds, Leeds is just over two hours on the train from London, and the Yorkshire Dales, hop in a car and you’re there in half an hour, 40 minutes. From my house, I live on the northern edge of Leeds and we’re in the Dales in 20 minutes.

Brian Kelly: But you’ve been in London now for how many years?

Nicky Kelvin: I’ve been here almost 10 years.

Brian Kelly: So, you’re a cool guy, you’ve got your pulse on fun things to do. What are three cool things outside of the big tourist attractions that people could do to get a cool London experience?

Nicky Kelvin: Okay, I’ll give you three. I’ll give you a food one then I’ll give you two places. So, I live in northwest London, I’ve always lived in those areas and I love it up there, everybody has their sort of natural home area in London. But, Primrose Hill in Northwest London is a fantastic little spot, really cool buildings, and houses, and a great high street with cool food. But, Primrose Hill itself, if you walk up to the top of it, it’s probably a three minute walk to get to the top, and there is the most stunning view of the whole of London. So, it sits right above London Zoo, you can actually see down into the zoo and then beyond it, beyond Regents Park, you can see into the city, all the skyscrapers, you can see as far as Canary Wharf.

Brian Kelly: Wow, why haven’t you taken me? That sounds awesome.

Nicky Kelvin: I tried to, I tried to, actually — I tried to, you’re a busy man.

Nicky Kelvin: Number two, Columbia Road Flower Market. Only open on a Sunday. I absolutely love it down there, it’s got kind of touristy now because of the people, it’s just packed with people and it gets very busy on a Sunday, but at its core it’s still what it was. Hawkers down a very narrow street…

Brian Kelly: Do you buy flowers every Sunday?

Nicky Kelvin: Yeah… well, if I go there I can’t resist, I have an obsession with plants and flowers. So, there’s hawkers on both sides of this very narrow street, and they’re all shouting out like proper East End, they’re like, “Get your lilies, 10 for a fiver,” like all of that. It’s kind of an experience as an out-of-towner. It’s also surrounded by hipster things of East London, so cool little coffee shops and places to grab food. But what makes it is the vendors on the stores who are all shouting out, and it feels like, if you close your eyes, you’re almost in the East End in the ’50s or something.

Brian Kelly: Oh, cool.

Nicky Kelvin: And then my last one will be a food place. Indian food and the UK go hand-in-hand, we have some incredible options, but Dishoom is just the one for me. I guess it’s a bit gimmicky, the insides of it is set up like a Bombay Iranian café, but the food is just incredible and…

Brian Kelly: And that’s D-I-S-H-O-O-M

Nicky Kelvin: That’s it, and this…

Brian Kelly: I know, I’ve passed by it, and I’ve heard from people, but I haven’t been yet.

Nicky Kelvin: There’s may…

Brian Kelly: You never take me anywhere, Nicky.

Nicky Kelvin: There’s maybe five of them in London now.

Brian Kelly: What do you love on the menu?

Nicky Kelvin: I maintain that the chicken ruby, which is the chicken curry that they do, is the best chicken curry you can get in the UK. And it’s In…

Brian Kelly: That’s a bold statement.

Nicky Kelvin: And it’s Indian approved. You go in there like, everyone’s Indian in there, actually someone who you know from the US, Brian, who’s from India, born and raised there, was in our office last week and she’d just come from Dishoom, and she said it made her feel like she was at home and she doesn’t get that in the US, so, there you go.

Brian Kelly: I’m adding these to my list. I know I’ve been meaning to go there. We’ve gotta wrap it up, but one of the things I’m most excited to travel with you, is soon we’re going to Israel, which is shockingly a country I’ve never been to. You’ve been how many times?

Nicky Kelvin: I think when I went at New Year it was my 31st trip, I think.

Brian Kelly: Wow.

Nicky Kelvin: And I’ve spent four and a half years of my life there, cumulatively.

Brian Kelly: There’s so much to offer in Israel. Like, what are your high-level Israel tips?

Nicky Kelvin: OK, I think the easiest way to do Israel, if you’re on tight timing, Tel Aviv is just the most awesome city ever, incredible people…

Brian Kelly: Do you like Tel Aviv more than London?

Nicky Kelvin: I could never actually live in Tel Aviv … Israel’s a bit like, crazy to live in, I think, although I have lots of friends from England who moved there, but it’s a bit crazy for me. But, Tel Aviv and London are like almost like my two homes along with Leeds. So, Tel Aviv — the best food, as you are about to experience when we go there in about 10 days, incredible food, incredible people, the vibe is just amazing, amazing night life as well. And basing yourself in Tel Aviv is great to then hop off to different places. So everybody’s got to see Jerusalem, Jerusalem without traffic is maybe a 35 minute, 40 minute drive from Tel Aviv.

Brian Kelly: Would you recommend staying a couple nights there? Because to do a day trip wouldn’t do it justice, right?

Nicky Kelvin: A day trip would not do it justice. I would say, if you could do two nights in Jerusalem, great, if you can visit the north at least for a day, somewhere in the north, to see an aspect of Israel, the waterfalls and the greenery that you just don’t even associate with the Middle East or Israel, is awesome to see. And you have to go to the desert, the desert is my favorite place in Israel, it feels Biblical, barren. And combining a day in the desert with the Dead Sea, having a float in the Dead Sea is a very unique experience, and I actually can’t wait to get you slathered in mud, baking in the heat and floating in the Dead Sea.

Brian Kelly: All right Nicky, we’ve gotta wrap up but, I’m gonna hold you to it. You’ve gotta give us some of those UK regional accents.

Nicky Kelvin: Okay, okay.

Nicky Kelvin: All right well if I were from, if I were from… if I spoke like I were from Leeds, I would talk way more like this. Like this is how I should talk because I from Leeds. Actually you’ve just been in Scotland so maybe we’ll take it right up there, because you know this accent now.

Brian Kelly: That’s pretty good.

Nicky Kelvin: No, I know it’s good. And actually, one place that Brian is very passionate about visiting, weirdly, is Wales. So, actually the Welsh accent is one of my easiest ones, it just rolls off the tongue for me. I love speaking in a Welsh accent. I could go on and on, I’ve got millions of these, but maybe let’s leave it there.

Brian Kelly: Those are pretty good ones. Well, Nicky, once again thanks for being on, and I like to end in allowing people to self promote. So, do you wanna tell people how to follow The Points Guy UK on social, and the site and your Instagram?

Nicky Kelvin: Sure. So, my Instagram is @NickyKelvin, unless you really love planes then it’s @milesmogul and you can see me in my aviation surrounds. We are @thepointsguyUK on Instagram and Twitter, and The Points Guy on YouTube and Facebook. Please follow us on all of those social media platforms, and our website ThePointsGuy.co.uk. You should go there, check it out, and also sign up to our newsletter which you will be able to do on our website as well.

Brian Kelly: And once again, that’s ThePointsGuy.co.uk. Nicky, congrats on the launch and I’m really looking forward to see where you guys take this thing.

Brian Kelly: Thanks again to my guest Nicky Kelvin, head of content at The Points Guy UK, and everyone at the London office. This launch week has been a ton of fun. And also, special thanks to my amazing new executive assistant, [Kristie Matsui 00:21:55], and of course thanks to our production team back in New York city, [Caroline Schagrin 00:22:02], and [Margret Kelley 00:22:03], with help from [Ryan Gabos 00:22:04]. And thank you to [Phil Bodger 00:22:06], our freelance engineer in London.

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